Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An awesome creation

I say this a hundred times, but the thing about teaching is, the kids teach me all the time.  For the last few days we have had water in the sensory bins in my room.  This is nothing unusual.  Water is a pretty common sensory bin filler.  In it I placed many scoops, funnels, sponges, spoons, etc.  I also had a wheel in it (always fun for the first ten minutes), an old fashioned hand mixer,  and two turkey basters.
In this water table there are several things that they explored.  I added soap yesterday so they spent a lot of time creating many bubbles using the mixer and sponges to whisk up and squeeze out bubbles.  I added ice and they scooped and melted ice.  They also put the the funnel wide side up over the turkey baster end so that it extended the length.  
The Discovery
The greatest discovery, however, came a half an hour before lunch.  One little girl, we will call Brenda, was occupied with the idea of getting the turkey baster to squirt straight up in the air.  She couldn't because there was not enough water in the bulb to go up the length of the tube, not even to just pour and dribble over the sides.  Seeing this, a friend, we will call Georgia, attached a right side- up funnel to the upside down turkey baster and began pouring water into the funnel.  It took a while for her to realize that she had to squeeze the bulb of the turkey baster to get the water to run down into the baster and not remain in the funnel, but once she did it was fantastic.  They would shoot water  out the top of the funnel by squeezing the bulb of the turkey baster-  taking turns being the girl to stabilize the device, and the girl to squeeze the bulb.  They would refill and do it over and over, now adding another friend, Tina, to the mix.  It wasn't long before the entire room was watching these three girls.  Sometimes it shot out with a kind of coarse mist and other times just a thin stream.  Sometimes they would add too much water and it would just bubble over in the funnel.  Sometimes the water shot out only a few inches, other times it hit the ceiling (about 9 feet high)  and traveled a few feet across the room!

What they learned
So what was the point of this?  Was this just "another day" at play?  No, no, this was something big.  At lunch most days I go around the table and ask each child what they liked about today.  Every single child said that the thing they liked best today was when Brenda and Georgia were shooting the water out of their creation, even the ones who were just watching.  They learned something that day, they learned about the power of water, the power of suction, and the power of air.  They may not know these words yet, (although I probably mentioned them during the course of this activity) but when they encounter the word "suction" they have a concrete experience to attach it to.  
More than this, they learned about team work.  They could never have done this without an extra set of hands to stabilize the device.  
They also created, on their own, a simple machine; If that does not empower a child, if that does not build self esteem, if that does not inspire them to build and create, if that does not create passion for them, I don't know what does.  
This will be a lasting memory for many of these children, and sometimes positive memories that contain them doing GREAT things, is what it is all about.  

A lesson for you, a lesson for me
Like I said at the beginning, these children teach me all the time, and boy did I learn something today.  Three and a half years ago when I started teaching this discovery NEVER would have happened.  I would have been too wrapped up in getting them to keep the water in the sensory bins on the table.  Yes, I had a lot of cleaning today, and yes, one little girl slipped and fell, but that same girl refused ice because she wanted to get back to the activity as soon as she could.  They had so much fun today, and they worked so hard, and took turns and worked together.  I could never teach that by showing them how to do this, (though truthfully I never would have thought of using those two tools that way- my imagination is limited as an adult, not to mention my inclination to explore or try something that doesn't make "sense"), they taught themselves how to make it.  I also could not teach them something like the necessity of sharing and team work.  I could tell them "if you share, if you take turns, and if you work together, it would be more fun,"  but they never would have believed me, or really even internalized that statement.  Yet, they were sharing, not because they knew that "good" girls share, but because if they didn't share the other friend would stop helping, making it impossible to do, and because it is more fun to experience  something like that with a friend.  Joy shared is joy doubled, (I think that is how the saying goes),  and indeed the sheer delight those girls experienced was contagious.  I know beyond a doubt that this was better than any "teacher project" they could have done.  Preschoolers are not designed to sit at a desk and listen to a teacher teach AT them.  Sitting around and talking about water, about snow, about rain, is not really learning for them.  They have to see it, touch it, play with it, manipulate it, and do what perhaps some overly discerning adult would tell them not to do.  Children can harness potential, passion, and creativity in a way adults only dream they could.   
It is times like this that I wonder how many times I am holding them back from a major discovery by putting unnecessary limits and boundaries in their world.  By telling them not to do something or even by telling the TO DO something- am I hindering their natural instinct to learn and explore their environment?  More and more I realize that, as silly as it sounds, my role should be a "facilitator of learning, "  not a "teacher" in the traditional sense.  It is my job to know what they NEED to learn and to bring them the tools, the space, the time to learn it.  Everyday we as teachers, (or sometimes we as parents), have to create the environment and circumstances for children to learn.  These children teach me how to teach them everyday, and sometimes they teach me how to make a fountain/ shooter/ geyser/ out of a turkey baster and funnel.